Cheese Factory Site to Chattahoochee Gap
North to South
What a great wake up call! A barred owl began calling in the last hour before sunrise. He or she then perched right above the tent and let out a call, just to make sure we were stirring.
My sleep was fitful, as the muscle that extends from my hip down toward my knee on my right leg was throbbing. Rolling onto it and sleeping on that side seemed to help.
It doesn’t get light until after 7:00 a.m. these days, which makes it hard to get early starts, despite the urgings of the owl. We decided to eat a bagel to avoid having to heat oatmeal water and costing us another 15 minutes. Hazelnut and chocolate spread in mini packets was a huge hit.
Even employing the bagel strategy, we didn’t get started until 9:30. A steady drizzle hit between 7:00 and 9:00. Thankfully not enough to soak the tent, nor the trail, but enough to keep us hunkered down a bit longer.
A small “up and over” section to start the say, and my “check engine” light for my right leg immediately came on. This time, I couldn’t “turn the radio up and ignore the situation”. Usually if my legs hurt, it is in isolated sections, say my calve muscles or my quads. In this case, my whole leg was in pain, from the calf to the hip. It wasn’t enough to make me cease hiking, but it took a lot to work through it.
Pushing off wasn’t a problem. It was the landings. So, I relied more heavily on my right pole and left leg to take the pressure off.
It’s funny about the trail. No matter what your age or what shape you are in, you can’t really account for how spending your days climbing over mountains and hills will affect your muscles and joints. It’s not an aerobic thing. It’s the effect of roots and rocks. Hiking the trail isn’t like walking on a treadmill or running along a road. Your feet are constantly twisting and turning to accommodate the unpredictable tread – small stones that shift underneath you, boulders, roots and what have you.
Soon the ascent of Rocky Mountain gave me the chance to fine tune my relationship with my right leg. It felt mostly like a hanger on, but I thought that if I could get the blood flowing through, it would respond. About half way up the mountain, the concern about my leg was replaced by the melody from “Saved by Zero”.
By the time I arrived at the 4097′ summit, my leg was back! The stunning views certainly helped. The timing was good, because it was 11:00 and we had only covered a little over two miles. There was no way we were going to make our date with Springer Mountain and trail’s end unless we picked up the pace.
We blasted down Rocky Mountain, crossed paved Unicoi Gap, where we found a briefly chatted with a northbounder from Michigan, scrambled up the bank across the street and cooked lunch. Continued emphasis on making time.
The trail obliged. The 1.5mile climb up Blue Mountain featured a number of switchbacks (zig zags). I got stuck on the Shaeffer Beer jingle – the upbeat tempo and indication of my feeling stronger (at least stronger than Saved by Zero).
The mostly viewless summit didn’t offer many reasons to linger. We scooted down through the turning oaks and beeches. Still a lot of green leaves overhead. Splashes of yellow and rust throughout. Gray squirrels running all over the forest floor. They feel the seasons changing. Their cuttings of oak sprigs marked their work.
Just below Blue Mountain shelter, there was a piped spring next to the trail. We grabbed 4 quarts. Little did we know how important water would become in the next few days.
At the 9 mile mark, we hit Chattahoochee Gap. I was spent. Close enough to the desired 10 mile per day pace. Besides, it was 5:30. We pledged to get an early start tomorrow.
A gorgeous night. The squirrels are right. The temps are getting unseasonably cold. Down to low 40s during the night.by